When Walter Whittard first set up store selling tea, coffee and cocoa, he had no idea what the next century or so would bring. It’s a story of breaking with tradition, war and disaster, survival, success, innovation and creativity…
1886: It All Begins
Walter Whittard was never the sort to compromise. At the age of 17 he quit the family leather business out of frustration with his father’s way of running things, and took a job with a tea trader in London’s bustling city centre. Eight years later – aged just 25 – he opened his own shop in bustling Fleet Street, with a simple philosophy: to “buy the best”.
1892: Satisfied Customers
It wasn’t long before Walter started to make a name for himself. In 1892, a “Lady L” from Cheltenham wrote to the store that “We like the tea very much, and have recommended it to our friends.” Another customer was similarly impressed: “I received the tea safely, and am much pleased with its quality, it is very good indeed, and I shall recommend it to my friends. The tea however recommends itself.”
1935: From Father to Sons
In 1935 Walter died, and the business fell to his sons Dick and Hugh. It was a tough time to take over any business: the effects of the Great Depression were still being felt across Europe, and a new war was looming on the horizon. Undeterred, the Whittard brothers took the helm, their father’s philosophy to “buy the best” firmly entrenched in their minds.
1940: Disaster Strikes
In 1939 war was declared, and a year later a bomb struck the Whittard warehouses during the blitz. “I shall not be sorry when this is all over,” Hugh wrote to his brother, sketching out a detailed diagram of where the bombs had fallen. Sadly it ended in the worst possible way, as the “Second Great Fire of London” in late December 1940 blew the warehouses to smithereens.
1941: A New Home in Chelsea
After Whittard lost its warehouse to the blitz, Dick and Hugh quickly set about finding a new warehouse nearby. It wasn’t long before they decided to up sticks and move their entire business to Chelsea, settling on a rather grand-looking building at 111 Fulham Road.
1967: A Tragic Accident
In 1967, Walter’s son Hugh Whittard was killed along with 48 others when a train came off its rails at Hither Green. It was a serious blow to his brother Dick, who ran the business alone for another five years before handing over the reins – though he was still called in for consultation. Dick died on the 20th July 1985 – just under a century after his father first set up shop.
1999: A(nother) New Home in Covent Garden
As the new millennium brought promise of new beginnings, we were celebrating a new beginning of our own: our dazzling new flagship store in Covent Garden. Filled with loose leaf tea, aromatic coffee and creative hot chocolate, it was an instant hit with Londoners and day-trippers – visit today and you’ll find a treasure trove of wonders to discover, including a tea bar serving all-day afternoon tea.
Today: What’s Next?
It’s been a long, varied and exciting history for Whittard of Chelsea. We’ve been through World Wars, incredible discoveries, tragedies and successes. But if there’s one thing that’s kept us going, it’s the attitude of our founder.